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The smartest students are fleeing law school

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

It's getting easier to go to law school with a low LSAT score than it used to be — because smarter students are smart enough not to go.

This chart from Bloomberg Business's Natalie Kitroeff shows the decline in the number of students with LSAT scores over 165, roughly the top 8 percent of test-takers, who applied to law school and eventually enrolled:

Applicants and matriculants with high LSAT scores

Bloomberg Business

One reason for this is applications to law schools are declining, period. Jerry Organ, a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas who analyzed the data, projects that by the end of this law school application cycle, about 54,000 students will have applied to law school, down from almost 68,000 in 2010.

Jobs for graduates have been drying up; in every state, there are far more new lawyers passing the bar exam than there are jobs waiting for them. (Aaron Kirschenfeld, a law student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, has an excellent series of charts that show the law school crisis.)

The drop in applications from students with high test scores is sharper than the overall decline. And while fewer students with low test scores are applying, more of them are enrolling, suggesting that they're taking up seats that used to go to better performers.

Bloomberg Business

Bloomberg Business

Organ predicts this will lead to a crisis for all but the best-ranked law schools: there just aren't as many students with top LSAT scores as there used to be. Law schools will have to choose between cutting their enrollments (and losing tuition money) and admitting a class with lower scores (and dropping in the rankings).

And some might not make it at all: Dorothy Brown, a professor at Emory University's law school, predicts that a top law school will close by the time this fall's entering class graduates.

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